The great thing about the DC Comics film series is that it remains steadfast in its general disinterest in your opinion. Whatever the precious film critic might say about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad — like, just as an example, they’re incoherent ink blots masquerading as motion pictures — the creative teams trudge on, ever the professionals.
Make a film, they were told. Do it before Thanksgiving of 2017 or else lots of people will lose their jobs, was the mandate, and so the wheel turns. The Justice League trailer was released this past weekend, and despite the howls of displeasure from a growing segment of fandom, it looks like the sequel to BvS that it was originally conceived to be, rather than the sly reboot the disgruntled hoped it would be.
Where did this irrational optimism come from? Zack Snyder is still directing this movie, like he was always supposed to. Someone of that ilk has very specific tastes, and no matter how much nudging comes from studio execs to have more wise-cracking or to consider a color palette that has greater variety than 100 shades of gun metal, the truth of the man will out.
It cannot be overstated that franchises such as the DC cinematic universe are less films than corporate mandates. Profit margins need to be met. Shareholders must be satisfied. Some form of pre-production has been taking place on this film since Man of Steel was released and the first logo for BvS was unveiled at Comic-Con. To turn this movie into a candy-coated chucklefest now would cost so much money, Bruce Wayne himself would throw up all over his Armani suit. Even if money was no object and the studio could shut the entire enterprise down for a retooling, there’s no guarantee of success.
The thing about world-building is that once the world is built, you have to live in it. The only other option is to tear it all down and start over. Yes, I realize that incremental change is also a part of life, that small things can be done to improve the overall situation, and that there’s nothing pragmatic or realistic about a creative person hitting the self-destruct button any time they make a mistake. But, with a multi-film saga such as this one, every small decision is made with the larger vision in mind. Ezra Miller is cast as the Flash to play that character in a particular type of movie. Same with Jason Momoa or Gal Gadot. The costumes, the production design, the music — it’s all tied together to make a coherent whole. You fiddle with one bit, the rest might collapse on top of you, like a massively expensive Jenga puzzle.
For better or worse, the DC movieverse is Zack Snyder’s baby. It has his stylistic fingerprints smudged all over it. Maybe I’m too old or my brain is hard-wired to only understand long, ponderous tracking shots, but I couldn’t understand half of what was going on in that trailer. I get some things, because I’m a nerd: that there’s a Mother Box, that Steppenwolf is the villain, that the Flash visits his dad in prison, that Mera is in the movie, etc. If I were a normal person, I’d think Batman, Wonder Woman, Fish Guy, Flash Man, and the dude in the tin foil bodysuit were fighting space bugs that exploded out of a glowing UPS package. This feeling of incoherence, of perpetual motion, and sensory overload trumping logic and sustained human emotion are all Zack Snyder hallmarks. Even if it the movie was directed by David Ayer and not Snyder, that tone carried over to Suicide Squad, too.
This could all be blamed on the presumed corporate group-think mentality that turned Ayer’s film from a gritty, Dirty Dozen-style men-and-women-on-a-mission story into a prolonged music video, but this would presume that the director has been fully relegated to mere automaton at DC/WB. There are hundreds of decisions a film director has to make every day, and most of them occur without a studio executive drooling all over them and whispering “action figures” in their ear every ten minutes. If directors were just puppets, WB would have hired an experienced TV guy to run The Flash and called it a day. Studios need visionaries. They need men and women who see what the movie can and should be. To get a job, a director has to sell multiple people on that concept, sometimes with nothing more than a few good words and a storyboard.
Zack Snyder has been that visionary for DC. Now that it seems his run will come to a close with Justice League, we see the studio scrambling for someone to fill that void. Ben Affleck either couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to that responsibility. No one appears to want to direct The Flash. DC simply doesn’t have a Kevin Feige type to move the chess pieces. If that was a feasible option, from a corporate standpoint, they would have done it by now, but maybe DC can take one cue from Marvel — empowering the directors you’d least expect. Who could have foreseen the Russo brothers — best known pre-Marvel as sitcom directors — taking the helm of the biggest superhero movie of all time, Avengers: Infinity War? It might be time to stop looking for a savior from outside and consider that maybe someone like Patty Jenkins — director of the upcoming Wonder Woman, which made a great first impression with its trailer — could be the answer. Whomever they pick, the small changes likely won’t be enough. For the DC universe to really work, someone will need to reimagine this world from top to bottom. Simply put, this is Zack Snyder’s world until it isn’t.